NEWS

Athens clings to Obama’s words as focus shifts to Berlin

TAGS: Diplomacy, Politics

Greece on Wednesday hailed the support expressed by outgoing US President Barack Obama for debt relief for the country even as the latter arrived in Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has consistently resisted restructuring Greece’s debt burden.

Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos expressed “satisfaction” with Obama’s references to the crucial issues of debt, the refugee crisis and Cyprus. “The US president made clear that austerity cannot lead to economic prosperity,” he said. Asked why an intervention by Obama in favor of Greek debt relief now that he is on his way out of the presidency should make a difference, Tzanakopoulos said that the situation in Europe is now very different and there is a shift against austerity.

“There is a very good possibility that by the end of the year we will have very positive developments as regards the Greek debt,” Tzanakopoulos said, noting that Athens was on course for a Eurogroup meeting on December 5.

The spokesman described Obama’s visit as “an event of global significance” while sources indicated that the outgoing president had been “very friendly” to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Earlier in the day, Obama delivered a stirring speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, exalting the virtues of democracy and ancient Greece’s contribution to the modern world. “I came here with gratitude for all that Greece – ‘this small, great world’ – has given to humanity through the ages,” Obama said, referring to Aeschylus, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Socrates and Aristotle.

Obama took advantage of the speech to highlight the democratic values he sought to honor while in office and implicitly prodded his Republic successor Donald Trump to do the same.

He also emphasized his respect for Greece’s efforts to respond to Europe’s refugee crisis despite its own problems. “Because our democracies are inclusive, we’re able to welcome people and refugees in need to our countries. And nowhere have we seen that compassion more evident than here in Greece,” he said.

In a brief meeting before Obama’s speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, the outgoing US president met with opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. In the meeting, Mitsotakis underlined the need for debt relief and the crucial role Greece has to play in preserving stability in a volatile region. In comments later, Mitsotakis acknowledged the significance of the support of friends like Obama but he emphasized that “there is no deus ex machina” and that everyone must play their part to extricate Greece from the crisis.

Smaller opposition parties also hailed Obama’s visit but pointed at enduring problems. Describing Obama’s visit as “an extremely significant event,” PASOK leader Fofi Gennimata added that “the problem is that Obama leaves but unfortunately the problems remain here and remain unsolved.”

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